February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: voice

Tangents: Data Immersion, the Tuning of the Internet, Superloops, …

Plus: the emotional key of books, physical computer drums, quantum computer sounds, steampunk modular, and more

Tangents is an occasional collection of short, lightly annotated mentions of sound-related activities.

Data Immersion: Characteristically breathtaking video of a new work by Ryoji Ikeda, perhaps the leading installation poet of data immersion. This is of his piece “supersymmetry,” which relates to his residency at CERN, the supercollider. More at supersymmetry.ycam.jp:

In an interview he talks about the dark-matter research that informed his effort:

“Supersymmetry is being considered as a possible solution of the mystery of this dark matter. During the period I’m staying at CERN, there are experiments being carried out with the aim to prove the existence of as-yet undiscovered ‘supersymmetry particles’ that form pairs with the particles that make up the so-called ‘Standard Model’ catalogue of physical substances. Data and technologies of these experiments are not directly incorporated in the work, but I’m going to discuss a variety of things with the physicists at CERN, and the results of these discussions will certainly be reflected.”

Tones of the Internet: The tonal repository of the Internet is very different from the room tone of the Internet, which we explored in a recent Disquiet Junto project. Over at wired.com, Joseph Flaherty profiles Zach Lieberman, with an emphasis on his Play the World project, which scours the Internet for sounds — the music heard on radio stations — and then allows them to be played back. “Using the set-up,” Flagerty writes, “a person can literally turn the internet into a musical instrument.” What makes that sentence more than hyperbole is that the source audio is played at the note triggered by the user, though it’s by no means “the Internet” being played, and instead a fairly well-circumscribed and specific subset of the Internet. (The effort brings to mind the title of R. Murray Schafer’s classic book of sound studies, The Tuning of the World.) It’s part of DevArt, a Google digital art endeavor that has nothing to do with Deviant Art, the longstanding web forum for (largely) visual artists, or with Devart, the database software company. “Play the World, and several other DevArt projects,” reports Flaherty, ” will make their debut at the Barbican Gallery of Art in London in July, but the code is available on Github today.” There’s something intriguing about an art premiere that is preceded by the materials’ worldwide open-source availability. Here’s audio of the note A being played for 20 minutes based on a wide array of these sound sources. It appears to be from Zieberman’s own SoundCloud account, which oddly has only 15 followers as of this writing. Well, 16, because I just joined up:

The Singing Book: At hyperallergic.com, Allison Meier writes about an effort to extract the emotional content from writing and turn it into music. It’s a project by Hannah Davis and Saif Mohammad. Below is an example based on the novel Lord of the Flies. More at Davis and Mohammad’s musicfromtext.com. A few weeks back, the Junto explored a parallel effort to listen to the rhythm inherent in particular examples of writing, and to make music based on that rhythm:

Everyday Drum: The divisions between words like “analog” and “digital,” and “electric” and “acoustic,” are far more blurred than they get credit for, as evidenced by this fine implementation of an iPad triggering not just physical beats, but whimsically innovative ones made from bottle caps, buttons, grains tacks, and other everyday objects (found via twitter.com/Chris_Randall). The project is by Italy-based Lorenzo Bravi, more from whom at lorenzobravi.com:

LED Modular: Vice Motherboard’s DJ Pangburn interviews Charles Lindsay (the SETI artist-in-residence, who invited me to give that talk last month) on his massive LED installation, which involves the chance nature of modular synthesis applied to recordings of the Costa Rica rainforest. Says Lindsay:

“I love modular synthesis, the unpredictable surprises, the textures and wackiness,” he said of his heavily-cabled Eurorack modular synthesizer. “My rig is populated by a lot of SNAZZY FX’s modules. I’m part of the company, which is essentially Dan Snazelle, a wonderful genius, inventor and musician. We share an approach that says ‘let’s build these things and see what happens.’”

Also part of the LED exhibit, titled Carbon IV, is audio sourced from the quantum artificial intelligence laboratory at NASA Ames. Here’s audio from Linday’s SoundCloud account:

Superloops: Rob Walker shifts attention from the “supercut” of related material — like the “yeahs” of Metallica’s James Hetfield — to the superloop of standalone elements. “The opposite of a supercut,” writes Walker at Yahoo! Tech, “the superloop condenses nothing. To the contrary, it takes one brief moment of sound or video and repeats it.” It was an honor to be queried, along with Ethan Hein, in Walker’s research. I pointed him to the great sounds of the Star Trek enterprise on idle. … And in somewhat related news, in Walker’s “The Workologist” column in The New York Times, in which he responds to “workplace conundrums” from readers, he has some advice for someone bothered by an office mate’s gum chewing (“Other than the clicking of keys and occasional phone calls, it’s the only sound in an otherwise quiet office”); he writes, in part:

Because you’ve ruled out music, maybe a comfortable set of noise-canceling headphones — tuned to nothing — would be enough to blunt the irritating sounds. Or you could consider any number of “white noise” generators that are available free online. Noisli.com, for example, generates forest sounds, coffee-shop noise and the like. You also could do a little research on “ambient” music and use a service like Pandora to construct a nondistracting sound stream. Such approaches may be inoffensive enough that you can simply play the sound at low volume from your computer — no earbuds required.

Steampunk Modular: By and large, I tend to keep the threshold of coverage above the level of “things that look neat,” but sometimes that neat is neat enough that I can’t resist, especially when it’s tied to a fine achievement by a talented sound practitioner. Richard Devine has posted on Instagram this shot of steampunk-style effects module, encased in an old book, that he got from the makers of the Xbox One video game Wolfenstein: The New Order:

Synesthesia Robots: And here’s one from Kid Koala of his lofi visual interface for his sampler. Koala is a talented cartoonist as well as an ace downtempo DJ. Those efforts have collided in a score he’s made for a graphic novel, and in various staged performances he’s put together, and this achieves a functional correlation in a very simple manner:

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P Is for Phonogene

Danjec plays with speech in a Make Noise module


The ellipsis in the title of the track “e for …” can be read as referring to several things, among them both the operational status of the work itself, and the means by which it accomplishes its goals.

The track in question is less a finished work than it is a step toward something. As Danjec, the musician who uploaded it to SoundCloud, notes, he’s using the music as a means to experiment with something called Phonogene. Phonogene is a modular synthesis module that takes the tape recorder as its inspiration. From the Phonogene website:

The Phonogene is a digital re-visioning and elaboration of the tape recorder as musical instrument. It takes its name from a little known, one of a kind instrument used by composer Pierre Schaeffer. It is informed by the worlds of Musique Concrète where speed and direction variation were combined with creative tape splicing to pioneer new sounds, and Microsound where computers divide sound into pieces smaller then 1/10 of a second to be manipulated like sub-atomic particles.

Here’s what it looks like:


The Phonogene, like most modular synthesis modules, is not an instrument unto itself, but an element toward making an instrument, by working with it in combination with external sound sources and other modules. In Danjec’s hands, a short sample of human speech is tweaked this way and that above a burbling sequence of semi-random percussion:

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/danjec. More from Danjec, aka London-based Grant Wilkinson, at danjec.com, twitter.com/_muncky, and instagram.com/muncky (that’s where the above image was sourced). More on the Phonogene module at the website of its manufacturer, makenoisemusic.com. Make Noise is based in Asheville, North Carolina.

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A Gathering Beat

A steady pace from Bratislava, Slovakia

The momentum inherent in the title of EGA’s “Northward” is not undermined by the track itself. The piece by the Bratislava, Slovakia, musician has a methodical, forward-pushing sense of movement — a track with a purpose. Its steady, slowly insistent pace doesn’t just suggest motion — so, too, does the track expand as it proceeds, gathering layers of static, rough noise, even snippets of vocals. Occasionally those rhythms falter like old gears, moving from an ambient techno to broken beats, but the structure eventually reaffirms itself, and the path continues.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/ega. More from EGA at twitter.com/EGA_color.

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Aliens + Interrogative Music @ SETI

Video of my 20-minute talk on the Disquiet Junto (plus Ed Frenkel's and a Q&A) from April 22, 2014

When you reference Ezra Pound’s statement that “The artist is the antennae of the race” at SETI, the “antennae” part takes on a whole richer meaning. SETI hosts weekly colloquium at its Mountain View, California, offices, and a few times a year those talks put aside interstellar science and are, instead, organized by SETI’s artist-in-residence. Right now that artist-in-residence is Charles Lindsay, and he invited me and mathematician Edward Frenkel, professor at UC Berkeley and author of the well-received book Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, to talk last week. This is a lightly edited video of the talk. The video is lo-fi, but the sound is good. The format of the video is that, after a short introduction by Lindsay, I talk for 20 minutes, then Frenkel talks for about 20 minutes, and then there’s an extended conversation, between the three of us, and then involving questions from the audience. I’m quite proud to have had my humanity thrown back at me during the Q&A by Lawrence Doyle. Also in the audience was SETI co-founder Jill Tarter.

My talk is about what I sometimes refer to as “Networked Creativity,” which I do here. Other times I call it, simply, “Doing Stuff Together Separately,” or “Ambient Participation.” In the talk I walk through the activity and development of the Disquiet Junto, the weekly music projects I’ve moderated since the first week of 2012. In the course of my talk I play five examples of results of these weekly music projects. The one by Mark Ward was particularly resonant at SETI, because it involved sounds recorded from Voyager 1 as it left the solar system. These are the five musicians whose tracks were included in my SETI talk:

Project 0036 / Grzegorz Bojanek / Poraj, Poland

Project 0002 / J Butler / Pittsburgh, Penn.

Project 0089 / Mark Ward / Sheffield, England

Project 0107 / Naoyuki Sasanami / Tokyo, Japan

Project 0066 / Jess Lemont / Milwaukee, Wis.

The talk was somewhat tailored for SETI, so with that in mind, here is a transcript of my opening statement, just for context:

“I just want to say thanks, first, to SETI for inviting me, to Ed for sharing the stage with me, and to Charles for setting the whole thing up. It is very much appreciated. I recently had a book published, as Charles mentioned, and so my publisher would like to thank you, as well. [Jill Tarter asks from the audience, "Do you have copies here?"] Just this one, that Charles brought, because he’s much smarter about these things than I am. I learn a step at a time.

So, when Charles asked me to speak at SETI, he asked what I wanted to talk about. I do a lot of different things, all circulating around the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and I recently published this book. I write for places like Nature, I have my own website, Disquiet.com, since 1996, I teach a course about the role of sound in the media landscape. I gave a lot of thought to SETI, to what would be appropriate. I thought about the central focus of communication to what you do here, I thought about indirect and chance communication, especially communication that isn’t inherently verbal. I thought about the interconnected arrays of radio telescopes, and about the network effect of SETI@home, that pioneering achievement.

So, in turn, I welcome this, ultimately, as an opportunity to speak about a specific thing I’ve been doing for a while now, an ongoing and expansive networked community of hundreds of musicians around the world, and sound artists, that I initiated at the start of 2012. I should say that the project is now a I little over two years old, but I’m still learning to speak about it because of all the investiagations I’m involved in, this is the one I probe the least in terms of trying to figure out how it works. So this talk is me walking around it, trying to figure it out, because I don’t want to totally demistify it, but I do want to share what I’ve learned these past two years about working with hundreds of musicians, upwards of 450 at this point, around the world each week.”

The structure of the talk is as follows: I explain how the Junto works. I walk through three different projects (0036, in which we made music that explore how classical music connects with abstract expressionism; 0002, in which sounds of fog horns and trains are combined; and 0089, the Voyager 1 piece). I give an overview of the range of projects, 120 weekly ones as of when the talk was given. I talk about how this work arose from my enjoyment of interviewing musicians and artists — how an interview involves asking 50 questions of one person, and the Junto in turn is like asking one question of 50 people. I discuss how many Junto projects involve forging partnerships, and then how each project probes ideas. By way of example, I play music from a project that involves exploring ideas from my book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II (project 0107 above). I share a bad joke about experimental music concerts — that everyone in the audience is also an experimental musician — and try to turn it on its head and look at the positive aspects of that notion of community. I then express misgivings about the term “experimental music” and discuss how I’m slowly exploring an alternate phrase, “interrogative music,” to get away from the broad generalization of an experiment and to get closer to the purpose, the intent, the pursuit. I talk through examples of online music communities that came before and after the Disquiet Junto. I talk about the notion of “parallel play” in childhood development, and how it relates to doing something with the knowledge that someone else is doing it nearby (even if “nearby” means across the world, but also in the same network of creative individuals). I note the term “acoustemology” and talk about what the “sonic potential energy” of the Internet might be. I play a fifth and final Junto piece, in which members commune with a Junto regular who passed away a year ago this month. I talk about the Ezra Pound quote regarding how “Artists are the antennae of the race.” And in closing I talk about how communities of creative individuals — whether musicians, or artists, or scientists — set the stage for their participants to achieve greater things than they might have individually, even if they don’t directly collaborate with each other.

And at the end of the talk I mention that the next project, the 121st, would explore ideas from Frenkel’s book.

Like the Junto, this talk is a work in progress, but it’s a pretty good snapshot of where my head is at right now.

By the way, if the “antennae” of Ezra Pound’s statement “The artist is the antennae of the race” takes on new meaning at SETI, this is all the more the case when you’re sharing the stage with a mathematician who, as an ethnic Jew raised in Russia, suffered from intense state-sanctioned anti-semitism that clearly took Orwell and Kafka as playbooks. Frenkel, during his SETI lecture, doesn’t dwell on the anti-semitism he experienced as a teenage math prodigy raised in Russia, though it is at the core of his compelling and educative book Love and Math. This particular connection to Pound is one I hadn’t made until it came up in conversation on Tuesday. Such additional connections and layers of meaning are the natural result of a discussion by individuals who have quite different pursuits, and Tuesday, for me at least, was no disappointment in that regard. It was a highly enjoyable conversation.

Video posted at youtube.com. It’s also online at SETI’s plus.google.com page. More on Frenkel’s book at loveandmathbook.com. More from Lindsay at charleslindsay.com. Visit SETI at seti.org.

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From Stonehenge to Lucier

Trevor Cox knows who they were and what they were doing.

This isn’t new, but it’s worth a listen, especially if you’ve (1) never participated in a soundwalk or (2) not yet read Trevor Cox’s sonic travelogue, Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound. Cox visited the offices of the Guardian and proceeded to take the editors on a blindfolded guided tour — except he was the one in the blindfold, gauging where he was based on what he heard. He also provided an example of how the acoustics of Stonehenge might have impacted the way ritual music was experienced on site, and talked about the evolutionary role of listening and of music:

More recently, just earlier this week, Cox posted an experiment in which he recreated Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room.” The extravagant reverberation of his rendition is owed to its locale. The recording was made in Inchindown, Scotland, oil tanks, which were recently granted the Guinness World Record for “longest echo”:

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/guardianbookspodcast. Video at youtube.com.

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